I like to use any free resources around me to save money and one of the ways that I get free soil for my containers that I grow my vegetables in, is to make leaf mould from the leaves that are falling at this time of year. It provides a lovely amendment to the soil which is a bit more spongy than compost and so is great for retaining water. Leaf mould is made differently from compost as it is not bacteria that is breaking down the leaves, but it is a type of fungi. Leaf mould can be used to improve the soil, as a mulch or as a potting mix.
There are a number of different methods of making leaf mould.
The heap method
If you have a large garden you can just make a pile of leaves, preferably near a tree as the fungi from the tree will speed up the process (but the leaves do have fungi present any way). The leaves take between 6 months to a year to break down. I shred the leaves with a lawn mower or chop them with a spade to speed up the process. Once you have your pile it needs a really good water. It is also important to keep the leaves damp and to keep watering them so that they do not blow around the garden on a windy day and the leaves need to be damp to decompose.
When I had an allotment I made a structure with chicken wire and some wooden stakes to stop the leaves blowing around. Some of the allotment holders used to put black plastic around the chicken wire to keep the water and the heat in during summer. I used to put cardboard on the top of my chicken wire bin in summer to stop the water from evaporating as there were no shady areas to build it.
The black bag method
I don’t like using much plastic but this is the way I have to make my leaf mould due to lack of space. I fill my black bags with leaves and take them to where I am going to store them and then I give them a really good water inside, making sure that the water goes down the sides to wet all the leaves. I then tie the bags and stab holes in the bags, especially at the bottom to release the water. If the leaves sat in the water it would be very smelly when you opened the bag. Last year I made 9 bags of leaf mould and stored the bags in threes on top of each other. This might seem like a lot but when they have decomposed the bags are only about 25% full.
In a plastic compost bin
If you have a spare plastic compost bin they will also rot well in there. You do the same as with the other methods in that you put the leaves in and then pour water over them. You will probably need to fill the bin in layers and then water as you go until it is full. You then leave the bin for a year and just water it now and then. The compost bin should not have a bottom in it as you want any extra water to drain away. It does not have to be on soil as compost does.
Can I use any leaves?
Deciduous leaves are the ones that you are wanting for leaf mould. Beech leaves, and birch leave are brilliant for leaf mould. I have a sycamore tree next to my garden and I use those and the leaves that come off the plum, cherry and apple trees. The sycamore tend to take a year to decompose unless I chop them up. Horse chestnut leaves are also best chopped up due to their size. Oak leaves tend to take a couple of years to decompose as the leaves are thick. Any thick, waxy leaves like laurel are not suitable as they take too long to decompose as do every greens, for example Holly. (I tend to dry these out as they are great for lighting fires).
Some times I just scatter leaves in areas of my soil to decompose by themselves. I always place some under my currant hedges and in my raspberry beds as they do not tend to blow away there. If any leaves fall on my soil I tend to leave them their to rot naturally and allow nature to do it’s thing but I do sweep them up from my paths and patios to stop them forming a slippery surface. If I have any space I also add some to my compost. I know longer think of sweeping up leaves as a chore, and see them as pounds and pence that I am saving.